Much has been written and stated recently about amusement ride inspections, and in the face of that, and in all the talk about regulatory inspections, compliance, and other various topics, I think one very important fact is occasionally lost. In my opinion, every person who rides an amusement ride is, in fact, a ride inspector. Perhaps not professionally qualified, but certainly an inspector. This inspection may be only a cursory glance, but it is extremely important...because if the ride fails this inspection, the rider doesn't ride...and if the rider doesn't ride, the owner doesn't get paid.
Of course, most people do not think about this. Most of us are not professional inspectors, we have no special training in amusement ride safety...what makes us inspectors? And yet, I got a good example in the summer of 2000 of how these amateur inspections are sometimes right on target. Here's what happened...
Jerry Dorf is a fellow amusement ride nut from Minnesota. He visited a carnival at a festival in New Hope up there and saw something that didn't look quite right. Knowing that I'd not only had some formal training in ride inspection, but also that I had some knowledge of Eyerly rides, on July 21, 2000 at he emailed me a simple question:
Is it acceptable to secure the door on a Roll-o-Plane with a Large D clip that looks similar to a large safety pin? I looked at one that that clip looked lightweight and came from a hardware store!
Perhaps some background is needed here. On several Eyerly rides, including the Loop-O-Plane, Roll-O-Plane, Fly-O-Plane, Rock-O-Plane, and Sidewinder, the rider is held in the seat by means of a tubular steel lap bar with a safety belt attached. This bar is flattened and drilled on the outboard end so that it protrudes through a series of 'ladder rungs' on the tub door. The door, then, is held closed with a spring latch. Just to make doubly sure that nothing goes wrong, a large spring clip is inserted through a hole in the end of the lap bar so that if the tub door is unlatched, the door still can't open because of the spring clip that won't fit back through the ladder rungs. The spring clip is itself a special part, usually called an "Eyerly door key". It looks like a large R-key, but it is made of a non-tempered spring steel so that it will remain elastic. It also has an extended end pin to make it easier to insert.
Of course, the 'correct' answer to Jerry's question is an emphatic NO. The manufacturer specifies that the door is to be secured with an Eyerly door key, and to use something else such as a click pin or a diaper pin does not conform to the manufacturer's specifications. Which, by the way, are considered law in some jurisdictions. Realistically, that door key is a back-up safety device, and it is very possible (remember, I'm in Ohio; I didn't see the ride Jerry was telling me about) that the pin he described was adequate to do the job. The fact remains that it is not the correct part. And Jerry happened to notice this.
Well, so that was that. Then the next day, a funny thing happened. Jerry sent me another message, this time just a URL for a story published in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune newspaper. The link is now rotten, but thanks to Jared Costanza's Amusement Ride Accidents web page, a news article has been retained. It is from another source, the Duluth News Tribune, but it's the same incident:
Authorities shut down carnival after accidents injure 11
(Saturday, July 22, 2000) - A carnival operating at the Cass County Fair in Pine River, Minnesota was shut down after two amusement ride accidents injured at least 11 people.
On Thursday, three children received electrical shocks as they were boarding a malfunctioning ride. The victims received burns to their hands when they touched a metal step upon boarding the ride. Two of them were treated at the scene and one was taken to a hospital where she was treated and released.
On Friday at least eight people were injured while they were boarding a circular swing ride. The ride collapsed, dropping the victims to the ground. Investigators found that parts of the ride were missing.
On Friday night, the Cass County Fair Board ordered the carnival operator, Magic Midway, to shut down operations and leave the fairgrounds. The company packed up its rides and left the area on Saturday.
Authorities from local police and sheriff's departments are investigating.
Jerry tells me that while this is not the event he attended, it was the same carnival.
Jerry visited a carnival and noticed that something didn't seem quite right. I don't know what else he saw while he was there, but he saw things that he didn't like, and he didn't ride. He didn't know that one ride was improperly grounded and another ride was about to suffer a mechanical failure. But the show failed his inspection. Days later, the show had an accident and the fair board shut it down.
The moral of the story? Do your own inspection. Look over the ride; does it appear to be properly set up and maintained? Does anything stand out as not looking right? Does the ride appear to be in reasonably good condition, or are parts falling off of it? Is the operator paying attention to the ride? When the ride operates, does it appear to be operating correctly? If it is a ride you have seen or ridden before, is it operating the way you expect it to? Is it making strange noises you don't usually associate with that type of ride? Most ride owners understand that it is in their best interest to maintain and operate safe rides. Most ride operators conduct regular inspections and conduct routine maintenance to keep their rides in good shape. They have to...accidents are very bad for business for one thing, for another, in many jurisdictions there are professional compliance inspectors checking things over. But not everywhere! Minnesota, for instance, has no state inspection program...just a requirement that the ride operators be insured and that the insurer conducts an annual inspection. And whether or not the ride has been inspected for compliance with local rules, ultimately it is your decision whether you ride or not. So pay attention. If you don't feel comfortable boarding a ride, then by all means, don't. You might just be right!
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
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Updated December 18, 2000.